Politics

Senate Intelligence Democrats Skittish About Integrity of Russia Probe

Panel Democrats huddled Monday evening

Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were unnerved of reported contact between Chairman Richard M. Burr and the White House. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says reporters should, “stay tuned” to see what action panel Democrats might take to ensure the integrity of an investigation led by Chairman Richard M. Burr after reported contact with the White House.

Reports of a conversation between the Trump White House and the North Carolina Republican have cast a chill over the panel’s probe of alleged Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.

Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee huddled late Monday in a secure facility within the Capitol Visitor Center, departing for a sequence of late nomination votes.

Asked following the meeting about what the panel’s Democratic membership could do to ensure Burr maintains the integrity of the investigation, Warner said the media should keep watch.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a longtime Intelligence Committee member, said after the floor votes that he feared conversations with White House officials by Burr could prompt questions about the panel’s independence.

“There are real questions about whether the traditional firewall when you’re in the middle of investigation, where there’s a firewall between the committee and the executive branch and the press is being, you know, respected,” Wyden said. “If these reports are true, then I think it’s going to be very hard to convince the public that there could be an impartial inquiry.”

“I think this is a pivotal time to really ensure that the public sees that you’ll go where the evidence goes, and that’s why you have the firewall,” Wyden said. “If these press reports are right ... if that’s the case, it’s very troubling.”

Warner was less specific, but he expressed concern about too much partisanship seeping in to what has traditionally been one of the least partisan panels.

“It’s got to be kept as bipartisan as long as it can, and we’ve got to follow the truth,” Warner said of the Russia investigation. “You’re talking about the basic democratic process of how our country operates.”

Some Republicans on the panel have also expressed concern about political meddling, whether by the Trump administration or the other side.

I think it’s very important that the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee be 100 percent credible,” Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday. “I will not sign my name to a document or a report, I will not vote for a report, that has been interfered with politically by either side of this equation.”

Rubio, a Republican from Florida, made the remarks during an interview with the CBS station in Miami.

“The notion that a KGB agent, who is now the president of Russia, is meddling in our democracy is deeply offensive to me, and I want the American people to be aware of it, if that’s what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and what we can do about it. That’s what I’m prepared to be supportive of. And that’s what I believe our committee is going to do,” Rubio said.

Speaking with reporters Monday, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes was quite dismissive of possible connections between Trump and Russian entities, much less the Kremlin.

The California Republican dismissed the idea he may have been compromised as an investigator by a call with the White House.

“How is it compromised if I’m trying to be transparent with the press? And if the White House asks me to talk to a reporter, which by the way, it was one reporter, I don’t know,” Nunes said. “If the White House asked me to talk to you, would you think that would be OK or not OK?”

“I think people want to get the facts,” Warner said Monday. “Everybody wants the facts out, and we want the facts out in a way that the — you know, while we protect sources and methods — that the public can see what happened here.”

Warner did not change his tune coming back from the Presidents Day recess about the distinct disadvantage of moving the inquiry to an independent commission or some sort of select committee, despite increasing calls from Democrats to make such a move. The biggest enemy of a new structure? Time.

“The challenge with some of these other plans, it would simply mean months and months of delay,” Warner said.

Rema Rahman contributed to this report.

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